How Rema Verified His Prophecy in A Year
A dive into the spontaneity that's made the Mavin wunderkind so beloved
A dive into the spontaneity that's made the Mavin wunderkind so beloved
The streaming era has revolutionised the music industry, introducing us to lasting superstars, viral sensations and one-hit wonders. We also got artists developing different strategies to maximising audience attention, from deluxe albums to bundle merchandise and more frequent releases. It is in this light that Rema’s unorthodox approach to music, both in vocal texture and music strategy, makes his blueprint worthy of examination.
The Benin-city superstar would take the world by storm through a series of hits, manufacturing a career that is filled with much intrigue and anticipation, achieving stratospheric success in a volatile music market, all within the space of a year. With his continued success, Rema has strung a fleet of hit records, featured on the cover of several international publications, and distinguished himself as an artist with a liberal cadence, whilst has still leaving so much room for the eagerness with each new release, and a deep yearning for a debut full-length album.
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In the past half-decade, the competition between streaming services has completely changed the landscape of the music industry, raising needed questions about ownership and value of music, whilst democratising music consumption, enabling a wider field of artists to have access to an ever-expanding consumer base.
The volatility of the pop realm is further exacerbated by competition between streaming services, and a seemingly wider field of artists having access to an increased consumer base. This has caused labels and investors to spend more resources on ensuring an artist’s song charts well, making playlisting a new factor in the reach of a song, and helping to determine which songs get the most attention.
Newer artists are lucky enough to have a hit song these days. They are rushed into developing bloated albums in order to game the system but end up presenting a project that does not live up to fan expectation, and as time waits for no man, are quickly forgotten. This is why Rema’s approach to releasing music so far has been particularly interesting. Rema since signing to Mavin has been on a solo hit-making run, through carefully tuned 4 track EPs.
“Dumebi”, his first ‘hit’ would climb the summit of iTunes Nigerian chart a week after the release of his debut self-tiled EP on the 18th of April. This immersive and sprawling experience would see the Benin native use his voice in a series of pitches and melodies to craft a vibrant tale that’s as random as it is curated. “Iron Man” opens the EP with delirious, hypnotic vocals from Rema, which become more legible as the song progresses. Combining various vocal melodic refrains and elements from Afropop and Trap – Hip/ Hop, Rema introduces listeners to his hymnic, mystical land.
Rema’s vocal mixes aim to be in harmony with the music, using his voice more as an accompanying instrument, than a competing vocal, a musical leaning that will only be more glaring through the course of his discography. On “Why”, whilst Rema is a bit more intelligible and conventional with his song structure, he provides variety through the application of his voice. From chorused chants of “why”, timed, yet random adlibs, and impeccable delivery, Rema adds colour to groovy, gracious chords, whose subdued nature, provide the perfect playground for Rema’s eccentric yearnings.
Rema has an attractive ability to convey moods through his voice, like on the intro of “Iron Man” where he repeats “I’m catching cold baby”, in a cadence that is infectious and instantly relatable. On “Dumebi”, Rema explodes into a unique array of infectious refrains, the EPs closer “Corny” produced by Ozedikus has an ethereal mist, which adds to the melancholy and mystery of this love. All tracks of this EP featured in the top 10 of the Nigerian iTunes chart, and still continue to enjoy radio play.
3 months later, Rema would follow up with another brief 4 track EP aptly titled ‘Freestyle’. Rema maintains a slight yodle on the opener “Boulevard” with his familiar baby voice, “American Love” features a more Trap, springy flow from Rema, sandwiching his rhymes with angelic chorused melodies and energetic ad-libs. “Spiderman” is a sorrow-filled track, with a reflective mood, conveying emotion through Rema’s dampened, dispersed, and whiny voice.
Rema’s brief, catchy EPs enabled him to adjust his sound to his own taste, the brevity of each track inspiring more curiosity, avoiding the listener fatigue that comes with bloated albums, with a targeted and streamlined effort that yields more than releasing an individual single.
By the time “Bad Commando” dropped, intrigue in Rema was already through the roof, spawning two instant hits, but no track within Rema’s 3peat discography is boring, ill-conceived, or unambitious. Opening with the now-familiar “Bad Commando” bounces gracefully across London’s guitar lead production, the brief recount of triumph is an irresistible subdued groove followed swiftly by the nocturnal thumper “Lady”.
The latter tracks of “Bad Commando” help illustrate Rema’s dexterity, as he finds himself articulating brief social commentary, “Spaceship Jocelyn” pushes Rema’s mystic range with a relay of catch raps, before breaking into elevated refrains, heightening an already elevated atmosphere.
It’s this tamed spontaneity that makes listening to Rema’s music such a treat. By constantly adapting his flows and interjections, he keeps songs vibrant and adventurous.
Rema’s actions, with deliberate and eclectic music, buttress his prophetic trajectory, mentioning his strategy in our interview with him in April of 2019:
“We’re planning a build-up. The less complicated ones first. The Iron Mans, the Cornys. We’re just grooming Nigerian ears so when it’s time to bring out the real deal, they’ll help us push it to the world.”
Revealing further that his music is the product of year-long rehearsals, that were followed by a liberating period of unhinged experimentation, mirroring the order and chaos of the universe.
The era of EP releases may be done for Rema at this time, releasing “Ginger Me” today, a sweet and reassuring ballad, with Rema’s characteristic choir charm and vibrant baby voice. Perhaps he is finally gearing up for a studio debut.
By releasing EPs at regular intervals, Rema has the advantage of capitalizing on hype, introducing experimental sounds in a calculated manner, and through observation, focus marketing behind songs the fans quickly gravitate towards. Another groundbreaking aspect of his ascension is his subversion of physical distribution and the politics that comes with it.
By distributing his music solely through streaming services and online sales, the hype around his music has a scarcity which helps his overall digital footprint and ensures he and his label keep earnings from pirates.
Whilst being an old school head, I will always feel a soft spot for the tangibility of physical copies, in a market like Nigeria it makes sense. It also highlights the importance of a label and the expectation of expertise artists should aim for in rollouts. In this era of access, concerted efforts overspending are necessary for developing and sustaining
Rema has gone from prospective talent to full-fledged superstar in the space of just over a year, securing several international collaborations with 6Lack & Tion Wayne, Becky G, and many others. He is currently nominated for an award at BET.
By limiting his physical presence, his adjoining online hype has created a scarcity that has boosted the presence of his music virtually. Rema’s exceptional musical talent and dexterity, coupled with an unabated performance campaign, Rema’s multi-pronged approach is likely to make him a mainstay for a long time, despite his proven range, it would not be wrong to postulate that the best is yet to come.
Rema is a shining example of how far Nigerian pop music has come, being an evolution of the vocal characteristics of artists like Wizkid, refining the art of freestyling, being a diligent student of hip-hop and contemporary music, to be one of the most distinct and dynamic Nigerian popstars of the new generation.
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Djaji is a creative Vagabond, send him your takes on music and African culture @djajiprime